In the 1920s, decades before the organic movement began, a group of German farmers invited scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner to give a talk on the perils of chemical-reliant, industrialized agriculture. Steiner’s lectures and discussions later became the foundation of the biodynamic method – a sustainable, ethical, and holistic approach to agriculture, food, and nutrition. A century and a climate crisis later, vintners around the globe have adopted Steiner’s philosophy in their vineyards, creating robust Pinot Noirs and lemony Chardonnays. So what does a biodynamic farm look like then, and what makes biodynamic wine different?
Biodynamic wineries employ a whole-system style to grape-growing. Everything from the grapes to the soil to the surrounding wildlife are taken into consideration. Often called über-organic, a certified biodynamic farm has met organic farming standards with the addition of other factors. Some of these factors include setting aside 10% of a farm’s acreage for biodiversity, limiting imported materials necessary to sustain the life of the farm, and maintaining adequate green cover to avoid over-tilling. Unlike organic agriculture, biodynamics uses the lunar calendar to plan harvest cycles, though it is not a requirement for certification.
Ultimately, the goal of biodynamic winemaking is for a vineyard to be able to generate its own fertility naturally. Through self-sufficiency, grape growers are able to develop a connection with their land, gaining respect for the environment and producing superior wine in the process. Uncover the wonderful world of biodynamic wines with these spectacular wineries from around the globe.
1. Scribe – Sonoma, USA
Brothers and fourth-generation farmers Andrew and Adam Mariani started Scribe nearly 15 years ago with the belief that a healthy relationship between man and nature is the key to producing the best grapes. The pair have been showcasing some of Sonoma’s best Pinot Noirs, Rosés, and Chardonnays ever since. With its collection of diverse, terroir-driven wines, Scribe is defined by its dedication to environmental stewardship. The soil’s rich minerality – a result of the neighboring Arrowhead Mountain – imparts a distinct flavor to the grapes. Of the 250-acre biodynamic land, 55 is dedicated solely to the vineyard, which produces roughly 10,000 cases of wine a year. Visitors can enjoy a bottle of Scribe’s signature Syrah and Riesling along with an artisanal meal prepared at their on-site Hacienda.
2. Benziger – Sonoma, USA
Situated in the remains of an extinct volcano caldera, Benziger Family Winery understands that the key to an authentic wine lies in finding harmony. A true triple threat, every Benziger wine is certified sustainable, organic, and biodynamic. A variety of beneficial gardens attract pollinators while adding beauty and biodiversity to the landscape. The winery operates a total of four vineyards across the Sonoma region. The vineyards’ diverse geographical spread, paired with the masterful aid of its growers, gives each wine a distinct sense of place. In addition to producing an impressive portfolio of award-winning vintages, Benziger also offers a Biodynamic Tram Tour where visitors can learn about the art of biodynamic winemaking while spotting Scottish Highland cattle along the way.
3. Hedges Cellars – Red Mountain, USA
In the heart of Washington state’s Red Mountain lies the ever-romantic Hedges Cellars. Tom and Marie Hedges started their now-renowned vineyard nearly 30 years ago out of a deep-seated passion for wine and farming. Today, the winery, as well as its accompanying chateau, is famous for bringing biodynamics to Washington grape-growing and its fabulous selection of Meritage reds. The Syrahs are an especially poignant expression of the vineyard’s character. Hedges attributes its wines’ complex flavors to Red Mountain’s nutrient-rich soil and concentrated fruits. The vineyard was officially converted to biodynamic farming in 2008, releasing Washington’s very first Demeter-certified Biodynamic Cabernet Sauvignon in 2015.
4. Emiliana – Santiago, Chile
Regarded as one of the most respected wineries in the world, Emiliana has been paving the way in environmentally conscious viticulture for more than 20 years. The biodynamic wine producer holds the distinction of being the largest organic winery in the world and has been carbon neutral since 2014. Among its many organic and biodynamic practices, ensuring environmental integrity is paramount. Emiliana does this through establishing biological corridors, planting cover crops, respecting the native flora and fauna, and creating a shared space where local wildlife and farm animals can freely interact. Emiliana currently operates six vineyards along Chile’s coast, with more than a thousand hectares between them. Notable vintages include the winery’s signature Gê and Coyam assembly from Chile’s Colchagua Valley.
5. Louis Roederer – Champagne, France
It’s only fitting that one of the most progressive and influential winemakers in France would begin its biodynamic journey at the turn of the 21st century. Louis Roederer has come a long way since 2000. Inspired to return to a simpler time in viticulture, the world-class winery converted half its land holdings to biodynamic, with the remaining staying organic. Most notably, Roederer released a 2012 vintage of Cristal made exclusively from biodynamically produced grapes, the first of its kind. The vintage comes in both a white and a rosé, each a masterpiece in their own right. Many attribute its quality to the year it was produced. Due to unpredictable harsh weather, 2012 proved exceptionally difficult for grape growers. Luckily, this resulted in a superior, far more flavor-concentrated grape. 2012 is now considered one of the best Champagne vintages of the century, making Roederer’s Cristal that much more enticing.
6. Podere Le Ripi – Montalcino, Italy
Started by nature photographer and famed espresso producer Francesco Illy, Podere Le Ripi is a testament to innovative winemaking. After being told by a fellow winemaker that he would have to wait till his vines were 35 years old to produce great wine, Illy decided to buck tradition and plant his vines at an extreme density. These tight conditions forced the vines to grow deeper roots, producing more fruit in the process. Illy’s out-of-the-box thinking and biodynamic focus set him apart as one of the truly extraordinary winemakers coming out of Italy’s Montalcino region. Podere Le Ripi grows its vines on the east and west side of Montalcino’s hillsides. The land’s oceanic clay soil, native oak forests, and warm weather converge to create the ideal environment for refreshing, terroir-driven Brunellos the winery specializes in.
7. Occhipinti – Sicily, Italy
Somewhere near the Iblei Mountains of Southern Sicily, Arianna Occhipinti is walking through rows of Frappato and Nero d’Avola grapes, thinking about how her wine will reflect the land she loves. Occhipinti is one of the true trailblazers of biodynamic winemaking. She started her eponymous winery in 2010 and has since become one of the largest distributors of biodynamic wine in the world, ushering in a newfound respect for the craft. Occhipinti’s efforts in biodynamic farming culminate in an array of striking vintages, each which tell the story of Vittoria. Wines like the Il Frappato, Grotte Alte, and elegant lineup of Vino di Contrada are authentic expressions of the region, its biodiversity and of course, its dedicated owner.
8. Domaine Gramona – Catalonia, Spain
Much like the wine it produces, Domaine Gramona is best characterized by its natural environment. The fifth-generation winemaker uses the perfume of the Anoia and Bitlles river basins as inspiration for turning expressive grapes into even more expressive wines, specifically those of the sparkling variety. The unique Xarel•lo grape rules most of Gramona’s vineyards, many of which are plowed using animal traction – a near-forgotten farming practice that requires man and horse to work in harmony. The winery itself was constructed in 2002 and employs bioclimatic architecture to reduce its energy consumption and environmental impact. Through the use of biodynamic preparations, Gramona is able to produce lively wines that speak to its creator’s commitment to both wine and environmental excellence.
Drinking a biodynamic wine is a sensory experience. Inside that glass of amber Riesling and velvety merlot is a lifetime of farming experience and a lifelong love of nature and all things wine. Biodynamic vintners and grape growers must learn to appreciate the natural world in order to honor it through their craft. The result is a delightfully complex wine with a spirit. It is that uniquely bold, delightfully delicious spirit you can taste in every glass.